08 September 2011

n.d.p. en suisse: raclette dinner

My first introduction to raclette service came shortly after my arrival in Paris, in the apartment of a colleague who had one of those spacecrafty tabletop grills where you sautée meat and vegetable accompaniments on top while the cheese roasts in tiny trays in the middle. I've always found the experience fun and communal, if deadly; the lakefuls of molten cheese tend to render me unable to eat for days at a stretch. 

Swiss mountain folk seem to have a higher tolerance for such things. (At least, higher than half-Japanese Pennsylvanians.) Apparently in the Valais, where my friend C's brother N lives, raclette was at one point such an integral part of the diet that homes were built with a basement room dedicated specifically to raclette consumption, which clever arrangement kept the odors of bubbling cheese from permeating the rest of the house, the laundry, the drapes, etc. N's house contains one of these raclette-dens, and it was there that we all shared a meal of the famous cheese, this time paired with local Valais wines and prepared using an arguably more authentic gizmo. 

The gizmo involves a hulking half-wheel of cheese held in a pivoting vise beneath an electric-grill, from which position the cheese chunk can be swung out and its top liquid layer scraped (fr. raclé, hence the name) off over potatoes, gerkins, etc. In this way the machine simulates a traditional fireside service. The ingenuity of service contraptions like these always reminds me slightly of Kafka's "In The Penal Colony."

The only downside to this method of raclette service is that it seems to require a slave or manservant. In our case our excellent host N selflessly insisted on serving each of us glop after glop of cheese before finally, much later, sitting down to work on his own glop.

We ate this alongside the traditional local accompaniment, Fendant a.k.a. Chasselas-With-Personality. While instinctively I'd usually go the fondue route and pair raclette with a Gamay, the saline / honeysuckle flavors of Fendant do an equally good job of refreshing one's palate between bites. (Not a huge surprise, finally. I think Gamay only works in this context because of what Andrew Jefford memorably termed its "hermaphroditic" quality: it is a red that behaves like a white.) We chose the particular bottle of Fendant - a 2010 Marie-Thérèse Chappaz Fully Fendant "Coteaux de Plamont" - because it was one of two biodynamic bottles cited by the insanely slow bartender we'd dealt with over aperos at nearby Chateau de Villa earlier that evening.

Marie-Thérèse Chappaz is a star of the Swiss wine scene who, presumably for reasons related to the impossibility of profitably exporting Swiss wines, remains totally unknown everywhere else in the world. Her website is a mauve nightmare, but communicates a real passion and dedication to her range of biodynamic Valaisian wines, such that I hope to taste more some day. Unfortunately the Fendant "Coteaux de Plamont" itself, sourced from granitic soils in Fully, struck me as somewhat clumsy and monotone by itself, particularly with the delicious example from Cave du Crêtacombe still fresh in mind. The Vinho Verde reference point was just a little too apt, with regards to the "Coteaux de Plamont."

With the raclette in the raclette-den, however, the wine was in its element, as were we. We demolished 2/3 of the half-wheel, or 1/3 of a full wheel, I guess, and then laid ourselves out on N's tiny ledge-like front lawn and watched the stars for a while in a semi-conscious, totally sated state.*

* Switzerland?

Related Links:

N.D.P. en Suisse: Chateau de Villa, Sierre

A recent 2011 article on Marie-Thérèse Chappaz @ LeTemps
An informative but perceptibly boosterish article on Chappaz @ ViaMichelin
A typically beautiful 2010 post on raclette in Switzerland @ DavidLebovitz

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